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Veteran Hong Kong broadcaster Steve Vines has fled the Chinese territory for the UK because of a “white terror sweeping” the city that was making journalism a high-risk occupation.
He announced his departure on the same day that Initium Media, an independent Chinese language news website, announced it would move its headquarters out of Hong Kong to Singapore, and a day after Cantonese pop star Anthony Wong was arrested for singing at an election rally more than three years ago.
China introduced a national security law in Hong Kong last year to stamp out dissent in the wake of the 2019 pro-democracy protests. The legislation has paved the way for a broad crackdown. Opponents said it has been used to target government critics, including in the media, while reporters said has had a chilling effect on press freedom.
“Despite the enactment of the national security law last year, we . . . thought that a space might still exist for people who still believed in the promises of granting Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy,” Vines said in a letter to his friends and former colleagues at Radio Television Hong Kong, the public broadcaster that has been overhauled to rein in its editorial autonomy.
“However, by the day these illusions are being shattered.”
After accusing RTHK, a 93-year-old institution modelled on the BBC, of biased coverage of the 2019 protests, the Hong Kong government replaced its leader with a civil servant with no journalistic experience.
Vines said he had decided to leave Hong Kong for personal and political reasons.
Vines told the Financial Times he became concerned after he received a warning through a third party from pro-Beijing figures in the city. “They have this band of people who are not officially sanctioned . . . who go around threatening anybody who has, so called, stepped out of line. Unfortunately, I was one of those,” he said.
“[The person] said quite aggressively . . . ‘you better watch your step, we are coming for you.’”
In June, authorities forced the closure of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy tabloid, after arresting its senior executives and freezing its assets under the security law.
Chinese state media have repeatedly targeted Jimmy Lai, Apple Daily’s jailed owner, accusing him of lobbying US lawmakers to impose sanctions on Hong Kong.
The government also successfully prosecuted Bao Choy, an RTHK journalist, for using a public database when investigating police misconduct.
Until recently, Vines hosted The Pulse, a current affairs TV programme on RTHK that was axed last month. He has had a long career in Hong Kong media and was the former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club in the city.
White terror refers to the decades of authoritarian rule in Taiwan when hundreds of dissidents were jailed. Hong Kong protesters have used the term to characterise their fear of retribution after the 2019 protests.
“Wong engaged in corrupt conduct . . . by providing entertainment, namely a singing performance, for another person for the purpose of inducing the other person to vote for Au at the election,” the commission said.
Kacey Wong, a contemporary artist who created a mobile prison to parade through the streets during the 2019 demonstrations, said on Tuesday that he had also left Hong Kong for Taiwan because of fears for his safety.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, has dismissed suggestions of any erosion of the freedoms promised to the city after the 1997 handover from the UK.
“If you look at the stock market, the property market, and the technology sector, the start-ups, even arts and culture now, they are all booming . . . because of the restoration of order and stability in Hong Kong,” she said last month.